Frank Lloyd Wright; the name conjures many images. Bold lines and organic patterns interpreted through modern materials. Modernism brought to America. An architect driven to the point of near madness by tragedy. While his legacy raises some questions, it is undeniable that Wright’s work is one of the cornerstones of the American architectural vernacular, and he is someone that we fans of modern design owe a huge debt.
There are distinct periods in his work. From the early development of the ranging Prairie Homes in the Midwest to the bold and stately facades of the Textile blocks, Wright did not allow his work and his legacy to become staid. While there are many homes whose names stand for themselves–Falling Water and Taliesin for example–there are a few others that the average fan might know just by looks alone. And then there are some homes that stand alone as oddities within the FLW portfolio.
The Pottery House is definitely an oddity. Originally designed for a newspaperman in El Paso, Texas, the home was never built under that original charter. Found in a portfolio of unexecuted designs, the plan was revived and adjusted for a location outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, through Wright’s continuing Taliesin Architectural practice.
Conceptualized as “a patio surrounded by a house,” the house’s plans had been shelved during the stresses and material shortages of World War II. In 1985, the resurrected design saw the expansion of the original floorplan, which doubled the original home’s square footage through a clever expansion of radiating arcs that encompassed the design.
What followers of Wright’s work will notice is the immediate departure from the history of “masculine” structures. The soft, curving facade of the Pottery House exterior does shelter an interior that may be more recognizable to fans of his classic work. But, while expanses of clean-lined wood hint at his other Arts & Crafts homes, all still have a supple bend to match the curve of the home.
This theme of the curve appears again and again through the long halls and and organic windows that dot the gracious rooms. Sometimes seeming a bit at odds with the linearity of the wood elements, the design eventually finds a balance between the rigid and the organic.
One of the major features is the use of the Southwest’s traditional adobe material. Not one to stray from experimentation, Wright’s embrace of the material is thorough. The adobe also lends itself to the concept which gives the home its name, the traditional pottery of its region. The use of the adobe necessitated some rather unique construction methods. In order to maintain an even, continuous curve around the exterior, a special railroad-style track was built and molding tool was conceived to run portions of the perimeter.
Another feature of the space, a swimming pool that connects the exterior of the home to the interior, may seem an appropriate addition considering the the warm climate of New Mexico. But it serves another less obvious function. After tragedy at his home and studio at Taliesin, which included the home being ravaged by fire, all of Wright’s residential designs afterward included a pool to provide an emergency water supply.
The Pottery House is an example of Frank Lloyd Wright taking his experience and vernacular and applying it to an environment outside his comfort zone. It’s a space where he truly excels.